Skip to main content

Radical Theology


Radical theology was the name applied in the 1960s to a widely publicized current in American Protestant

theology which was fundamentally skeptical about modern man's ability to speak meaningfully about God. The theologians most prominently identified with the movement were William Hamilton, Paul Van Buren, and Thomas J. J. Altizer. Several other theologians were closely associated with the movement in the popular mind although their works were less radical in character. The British theologian, John A. T. Robinson, and the American theologian, Harvey Cox, shared a good deal of the radical theologians' skepticism and, like the radical theologians, Robinson and Cox advocated a religion of secular involvement rather than a religion of otherworldly salvation. Gabriel Vahanian, although not one of the radical theologians, shared their preoccupation with the challenge of contemporary secularism to Christian faith.

The theological divergencies among the radical theologians were too great for them to form a school. Nevertheless, their works are marked by a number of common convictions. Faith in the transcendent God of traditional Christian theology is no longer possible for the contemporary man. The theologian can no longer work in the church. His concerns are no longer the classical churchly concerns: liturgy, prayer, otherworldly salvation. He must move out into the world, since, like other contemporary men, his fundamental preoccupation is the struggle to maintain human values in the context of modern secular society. He can no longer speak of a God who has become meaningless to contemporary man but he must still speak of Christ. The Christ of the radical theologian, however, is the purely human Christ who is the man for others. Christ's function in contemporary society is to serve as a supremely inspiring human example, Christ is "a place to be" in the struggle for human values.

The shift away from theological activism at the end of the civilrights struggle brought a decline of interest in radical theology. As a movement it did not survive the sixties, but the issues which it brought to prominence in America, e.g., the knowability of God, contemporary Christology, eschatology, and social activity, continue to occupy the attention of contemporary theologians.

See Also: death of god theology.

Bibliography: t. j. j. altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia 1966); ed., Toward a New Christianity: Readings in the Death of God Theology (New York 1967). t. j. j. altizer and w. hamilton, Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis 1966). h. cox, The Secular City (New York 1965). w. hamilton, The New Essence of Christianity (New York 1961); "The Death of God Theology," Christian Scholar 48: 2748; "The Shape of Radical Theology," Christian Century 82:121922. j. a.t. robinson, Honest to God (Philadelphia 1963); Exploration into God (Palo Alto, Calif. 1967). g. vahanian, The Death of God (New York 1961); No Other God (New York 1966); ed., The God is Dead Debate (New York 1967). p. van buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York 1963); Theological Explorations (New York 1968). l. gilkey, Naming the Whirlwind: The Renewal of God Language (Indianapolis 1969) 107145. v. mehta, The New Theologians (New York 1966). t. w. ogletree, The Death of God Controversy (Nashville 1966).

[g. mccool]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Radical Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 10 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Radical Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (April 10, 2019).

"Radical Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 10, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.